Wrocław, a metropolitan city in the region of Lower Silesia, has a history spanning more than a thousand years. It became a Polish city only after World War II. Now inhabited by about 630 thousand people, it is fourth largest in terms of population in Poland, and second strongest in terms of economy, following only Poland’s capital city of Warsaw. It is also the thirty-fourth largest city in the European union. Despite its lively industrial, academic, and cultural life, it is surrounded by an aura of enigmaticity. This is due to the fact that it continues to be known internationally by its former German name of “Breslau” rather than its present Polish one. A desire to overcome this state of affairs was one of the main reasons it applied for the status of European Capital of Culture, a distinction awarded to cities belonging to the European Union.

This essay tells the story of the program of the European Capitals of Culture, initiated in 1985 by Melina Mercouri, and recounts leading ideas informing the successful bid of Wrocław, which helped to win this title for the city. While emphasizing the success story of Wrocław, whose population learned to deal with its multinational and multicultural past, the paper also stresses major social problems resulting from the rapid transformation of the city from its industrial past to its postindustrial present. Particularly important among these are various forms of exclusion and self-exclusion from urban cultural life.

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